Doctor with stethoscope

Having regular health checks can help you can stay at the top of your game, and catch problems early

Here are some of the things you should consider talking to your general practitioner (GP) about.

Vaccinations

Immunisation is a safe and scientifically proven way to protect yourself from diseases that can be harmful – and even deadly – for older people. Talk to your GP about what vaccines might be right for your health, age, lifestyle and occupation.

Two vaccines in particular are recommended for older people: influenza (flu) and shingles.

You need to get a flu shot every year, because different strains of the virus are active each flu season. Flu shots are free for people over 65.

Even if you’ve had shingles before, you should still have the shingles vaccine, which is free for people aged 70-79.

Heart health

Heart attack is the biggest killer of men and women in Australia, and it often strikes with no warning signs. As you get older, your risk of heart disease increases. The risk is also higher for men, and for people with a family history of heart disease.

There are some risk factors that you can change, however. These include poor diet, smoking, high total cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, physical inactivity and being overweight. Depression and social isolation also increase your risk of heart disease.

When you talk to your GP about heart health, some of the tests they might recommend include a blood pressure test, a coronary angiogram or an electrocardiogram (ECG).

Eye checks

As you get older, you need to get your eyes checked regularly.

Optometrists recommend being tested at least every two years. You may need to be tested more often if you’ve had a stroke or have diabetes, high blood pressure or a neurological condition.

As well as measuring how well you see, eye tests monitor how your eyes react to light and movement, the pressure inside your eye, and examine the surface of your eyes with a microscope.

Sexually transmitted diseases

Anyone who is sexually active can catch a Sexually transmitted infection (STI), particularly if you don’t use condoms consistently. Even if you have no symptoms, you should consider being tested after any sexual contact with a new or casual sexual partner.

If you are a gay man or a man who has sex with other men, you should get regular check-ups for STIs including HIV and syphilis at least every year – and more often if you have an increased number of sexual partners.

Bowel cancer

If you’re over 50, talk to your GP about bowel cancer screening. Most bowel cancers are treatable if they are diagnosed early.

Bowel cancer screening involves taking tiny samples from two separate bowel motions using a test kit. The samples are sent to a laboratory for testing.

Cervical cancer

All women between 25 and 74 years should have a cervical screening test every five years to check for changes in the cervix.

The cervical screening test replaced the pap test on 1 December 2017. The way the test is done is the same – it doesn’t feel any different to having a pap test.

If you are 25 or older, your first cervical screening test is due two years after your last pap test.

Breast cancer

Breast cancer affects one in eight women in Victoria. It can occur at any age, but it is most common in women over 60.

Women aged 50 to 74 are eligible for a free screening mammography test through BreastScreen Australia. You can still be screened after the age of 74, but reminders stop being sent after this age.

Screening mammography detects breast cancer at an early stage, when you have no symptoms or a cancer may be too small to be felt by you or your doctor.

Prostate cancer

Unlike bowel, cervical and breast cancer, there is no national screening program for prostate cancer. Not all men need to be tested for prostate cancer, and there are some limitations of prostate cancer testing and treatment that you should talk about with your GP.

However, men with a family history of prostate cancer (a father or brother diagnosed at an early age), or with a previously elevated test result, may wish to start two-yearly testing from the age of 45.

The two most common tests for prostate cancer are a digital rectal examination (DRE) or a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test – but neither is completely accurate.

If a DRE or PSA test is abnormal, you might need to have a biopsy to determine whether cancer is present.